Steve Chapman

Republicans who take credit for toppling Saddam Hussein often forget that the U.S. provided help to him during the Iran-Iraq war. Even though Saudi Arabia is a repressive monarchy, presidents have always treasured it as an ally because of its immense oil reserves.

Democracy in Tehran? For sure. In Riyadh? Let's not get carried away.

Obama's critics think it's shameful for him to decry the brutal treatment of enemy captives. But if he had lost in 2008, we would have a president -- John McCain -- who is on record saying that the Bush administration used torture, that it "harmed us," and that it should "never happen again."

Ronald Reagan didn't believe that pride is the only acceptable sentiment about our history. He made one of the most extravagant apologies ever by signing a law providing compensation to Japanese-Americans who were locked in internment camps during World War II.

Said Reagan: "Here we admit a wrong; here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law." Imagine that -- admitting we were wrong merely because it was true.

Even George W. Bush was not above confessing American misdeeds to foreign audiences. In 2005, he traveled to Latvia to publicly disavow the post-World War II deal that consigned it to the loving embrace of Josef Stalin.

The Yalta agreement, said Bush, "followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable."

Obama no more deserves condemnation for recognizing our dark moments than does Bush. No government is perfect, and no nation is exempt from the temptations of self-interest and hypocrisy.

We've all known people who can never admit error or make amends to those they have wronged. We do not regard such people as strong and wise. We regard them as weak and immature. A vice in an individual is not a virtue in a president.

Romney ends his book by quoting from "America the Beautiful": "America! America! God shed his grace on thee." Never mind another of the lyricist's hopes for her country: "God mend thine every flaw."

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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